Republicans try to make IRS worse for the poor

Here’s some government speak for you:

The Department of Treasury reported, in its most recent financial statements, that the EITC improper payment rate, comprised of both intentional fraud and unintentional filing errors, was nearly $18,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2014. In an effort to reduce intentional fraud and unintentional filing errors in refundable credit programs intended to help taxpayers, the Department of the Treasury is directed to ensure that the same eligibility questions are being asked of taxpayers whether they are preparing their returns with a paid tax preparer or via do-it-yourself methods such as paper forms, preparation software, or online preparation tools. Implementing uniform eligibility questions for refundable credit filers is a common sense step that will help alleviate confusion over eligibility and better establish qualification for these credits. The Department of the Treasury shall ensure that all EITC eligibility questions included on Form 8867, such as questions 1 through 19 and the eligibility questions used to meet the requirements of question 24, will be included on the Schedule EIC. The Department of Treasury shall implement this for tax returns filed after January 1, 2016. The Department of Treasury shall ensure that eligibility questions for all other refundable credits, such as the Child Tax Credit, American Opportunity Tax Credit, or the healthcare premium tax credit, are the same for all taxpayers regardless of filing method and that it utilize existing forms for refundable credit due diligence programs instead of creating additional forms or worksheets as it did with the proposed Form 8967.

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? It’s not:

The proposal, included in the recently passed Senate Appropriations bill, adds a battery of questions regarding eligibility (“Is the taxpayer’s investment income more than $3,350?”; “Is the taxpayer’s filing status married filing jointly?”) currently included in a form that tax preparers have to fill out. The idea is to force tax preparers to double-check their work; most EITC errors are the fault of incompetent tax preparers, not individuals. But adding the questions to the individual return makes no sense, as they’re already answered elsewhere. The return will obviously already state if the taxpayer is married filing jointly, for instance.

There is no good policy rationale for this change. H&R Block CEO William C. Cobb has attempted to justify it as a way to reduce improper payments, but there’s little reason to think it would have that effect. Again, taxpayers already have to supply all this information, and the real misreporting problem is from paid preparers like H&R Block, not individuals. A recent IRS study found EITC-claiming returns from paid preparers were more likely to result in overpayments than self-filed returns. That’s right: People who fill out taxes for a living are, on average, worse at it than taxpayers who do it themselves (and, by the way, the IRS’s volunteers do a better job than anybody).

The only possible reason to change the form, then, is to confuse taxpayers enough that even more of them will pay companies like H&R Block to prepare their returns.

No, I think the reason to change the form is that Republicans just want to make the life of the poor worse–if that helps out H&R Block and Intuit, who donate a lot of money spend a lot of money lobbying Congress, that’s a bonus.

Of course that’s not the only interesting bit. There’s also this:

The Committee recommends a total of $10,475,000,000 for the Internal Revenue Service for fiscal year 2016. The Committee agrees with GAO, the National Taxpayer Advocate, and TIGTA that the IRS needs to ensure available resources are utilized as effectively as possible by identifying opportunities to improve services while offering the best possible mix of services to taxpayers. The Committee stresses the importance of achieving program efficiencies and cost savings. As the GAO observed, ‘‘Additional funding is not the only solution to performance declines across IRS. Although resources are constrained, IRS has some flexibility in how it allocates resources to ensure that limited resources are utilized as effectively as possible.’’ The Committee believes the formation of IRS’s Planning, Programming and Audit Oversight office is overdue and hopes this office assists the IRS in strategically managing its operations under current funding levels as is expected of all Federal agencies.

This represents a cut of $470 million. As I note here, this is triple bonus for the Republicans: it will make the IRS reduce their personnel so interactions with the IRS will take longer–this makes people more likely to dislike the IRS; it reduces the amount of enforcement against the rich and corporations; they can claim they are helping to reduce the budget when they’re actually increasing it (for every dollar that goes to the IRS, they collect more than $1 because of increased collection)–they don’t really care about the deficit after all.

And then there’s this:

Unfortunately there continues to be evidence of a culture that is simply out of touch with taxpayers and their concerns. When the IRS singles out certain groups for disparate treatment it should not be surprised by the lasting impact such actions have on taxpayer attitudes.

Ah yes, conservatives were singled out unfairly. They’re still going on about that.

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